From plastic hazmat clean-up sets to plush piles of poop emojis, there’s nothing boring about today’s international toy market. For those of us who grew up with action figures and Barbie dolls, some of these new offerings are certainly a little bit…out there.
But maybe we’re not giving credit where it’s due. An anatomically correct, fully disembowel-able doll doesn’t seem like a great toy—until you consider what kids could be learning about biology and medicine when they play surgeon. A board game about dog poop just seems crass—until you think about the valuable lessons in responsible pet ownership.
These toys are strange. Some of them are gross. But when you take a closer look, they can be educational, too.
We’re talking about stuff like:
1. Erwin the Little Patient
Hey kids! Who wants to play surgeon? Great, now, who wants to play surgeon with anatomically correct essential organs? Poor Erwin the Little Patient needs an operation, and you’re the one to make him better.
Erwin comes out of the box dressed in a hospital gown, and ready to go under the knife. Once the little surgeons open him up, they get to see how organs in the body fit and work together. Inside Erwin, you’ll find the lungs, heart, liver, spleen, intestines, and kidneys. Each organ is a different color, and after they’ve all been removed, you can see Erwin’s skeletal system.
Kids can learn how their bodies work and the function of each organ with the help of the included workbook. It might seem a little gruesome, but Erwin is all about education. There’s zero blood or gore, simply anatomically correct body parts.
Unfortunately, this toy comes with no guarantee that your child will grow up to be a wildly successful surgeon. For that, you’ll probably need to start saving for medical school, like, yesterday.
2. Celebrity Rubber Ducks
Rubber ducky, you’re the one. Even when you look like Elvis Presley.
It was 1970 when Ernie first sang his iconic rubber duckie song on Sesame Street. Who can forget the classic ode to everyone’s favorite bath time companion?
Though it had an early identity crisis (the first of them were sold as chew toys and were too heavy to float, according to the National Toy Hall of Fame), the rubber duckie has become quite the collector’s item, with people buying up every size and style out there.
Recently, some ducks have started to “evolve.” You can now find ducks sporting all different styles and personalities. One duckie lover took this idea a step further and created his own business selling celebrity—and occasionally historical—rubber ducks.
Craig Wolfe’s business may be a little unusual, but his Celebri Ducks are incredibly popular. One model—The Good Duck—goes back to the product’s chew-toy roots. It’s designed to be safe for teething babies, with food-grade materials and a complete lack of PVC, phthalates, and BPA.
“I always knew that everyone loved rubber ducks, and we could take it to a whole new level,” Wolfe tells Urbo. And he did! Thanks to Wolfe, you can now buy rubber ducks in the likes of Yoda, The New York Yankees, Elvis, or even Mr. T.
Education-value-wise, what better way to learn about Shakespeare than to start with a rubber duck featuring the great bard’s visage?
3. Doggie Doo
Having a pet dog is great. They’re always excited when you get home from school or work, they’re soft and fluffy, and you get to pick up their poop. Who doesn’t love that aspect dog of ownership? Luckily, if your parents won’t get you a puppy, you can have the next best thing: Doggie Doo.
With Doggie Doo, you get your own plastic dachshund, complete with a leash, food, and colorful scoopers. To play the game, you feed your toy pup a nice meal and then take him out on a walk. When you squeeze the handle on the leash, the dog will start to make some questionable sounds until voilà! Your doggie has done its business.
The goal of the game is to be the first person to clean up three messes. Doggie Doo is meant to teach kids about responsibility in regards to having a pet—and that some of those responsibilities are, in fact, a little gross.
4. Sinking Titanic Slide
While this shouldn’t exist in the first place, someone can learn from it.
If you want to liven up a party, get a bounce house. There’s nothing better than busting into a giant, inflatable castle or obstacle course and jumping your heart out. Everybody loves them, and you wouldn’t think there’s any possibility to make bouncy castles offensive—oh, but there is.
For the truly uncouth, you can order up a sinking Titanic inflatable slide for all the guests to enjoy at your next party. This piece is perfect for your next disaster-themed gathering. If you want to get really weird, you can even get this setup with the iceberg included.
We aren’t sure why anyone would create something like this, but at least it looks kind of fun? Though, no amount of fun can really make up for the fact that someone made an inflatable version of a serious tragedy.
We suppose there’s some educational value to hands-on learning about a historical event, no matter how tragic. But the real learning here should probably be on the part of the Guangzhou Xingheng Inflatable Co., Ltd., the company that manufactures this atrocity. The lesson: Maybe whimsy and mass loss of life don’t go that well together.
5. Hazmat Team Playset
Playmobil is a German company that has been making toys since 1974. The original Playmobil toy was a 3-inch tall figure with a big face and smile. The toy’s creator, Hans Beck, wanted to create a character who wouldn’t inhibit kids’ imaginations. Beck went on to pair his creations with all sorts of changeable props for any and all play situations.
Playmobil became incredibly popular, and new sets are still being made today. We suspect Beck’s idea of creating playsets to mimic real life was a cute and earnest idea, but a few of the situations recent Playmobil figurines find themselves in are a little strange.
If your child wants to realize their dream of cleaning up dangerous, hazardous waste, now they can—with this Playmobil set. (It’s out of print, but you can still find them on eBay and Amazon.) This isn’t the only odd set made by Playmobil, either. At various points through Playmobil’s history, kids could enjoy playing with the Rescue Jump Team, the Policeman and Tramp, and even a tiny porta-potty. What fun.
6. Plush Bathroom Buddies
Who doesn’t enjoy telling some bathroom jokes every once in a while? While these jokes are (usually) all in good fun, it’s difficult to find good props to coincide with bathroom humor. Luckily, thanks to a Swedish company, now you can purchase your own plush versions of human excrement Number 1 and Number 2!
Pee&Poo are plush creations are the brainchild of graphic designer Emma Megitt. When they first hit the scene, they took off in their native Sweden. Since then, they’ve spread around the world, which is kind of a gross thing to say about toys based on human excreta.
At first, Pee&Poo may seem a little crass, but these stuffed toys are just a cute reminder that everybody uses the bathroom. So why not take the embarrassment out of a natural process early in life by replacing it with cute, plush toys?
7. Kobito Dukan
If you’ve always wanted to play with weird, anthropomorphic plants, Kobito Dukan is right up your alley. Japanese artist Toshitaka Nabata is behind these creations, and even though we aren’t quite sure what they’re supposed to be, they do look pretty cool.
Kobito Dukan falls into the category of “ugly cute.” These characters all appear to be plants, sort of, but with disconcerting human faces. And the mythology that surrounds the Kobitos is incredibly well-developed.
Kobitos are tiny, dwarf-like creatures who live (secretly) in nature. Every Kobito has a tendril on top of their head that they use to breathe, smell, and eat. If you want to try and find a Kobito, you have to learn all about their personalities and habitats—but be careful, some Kobitos are dangerous to humans.
There’s a whole world created around the Kobito Dukan, including multiple books about finding, identifying, and caring for Kobitos. Kobitos encourage reading and can teach kids a lot about acceptance and openness to people who are different than then.
8. Utamin Theremin Toy
If you’re tired of buying the same ‘ol light up games for the kids in your life, check out the Utamin Theremin toy (available on Amazon as of this writing.) These cute orbs come from Japan and sing when you wave your hand in front of them. For an extra challenge, switch the toy to its “rhythm and melody” mode, and play any note in the musical scale—with your hands.
These toys function similarly to a theremin, the electronic instrument that wails the melody on the original Star Trek theme. The pitch is determined by how far away your hand is from the toy. Play songs alone, or set up multiple Utamins to sing duets or trios!
While Utamins are unconventional and educational, these toys can be a little loud…so think twice before giving your little Mozart a loud new instrument. On the other hand, theremins are great at teaching pitch, so this could be an excellent tool for a budding musician.
9. From Trash to Toy
You know the saying—one man’s trash is another person’s jumping off point for creating a new toy. That’s how that goes, right? At least that’s the case for Strawbees. Strawbees are made from the plastic remnants of IKEA products.
“A simple concept of straws and connectors, but a limitless opportunity for kids, or inventor of any age really, to bring their building dreams to life,” public relations executive Katie Cronin says of her client’s creation.
Strawbees kits are filled with tiny connectors that can be used to transform would-be trash into amazing mechanical marvels. They may look small and insignificant, but these connectors, made entirely from recycled plastic, spur the imagination without the serious environmental impact of most toy manufacturing. They even teach rudimentary coding and robotics through a web-based software platform!
As a brand, Strawbees believes “making, playing, testing and retrying is the way forward to making the world a more innovative place,” according to their website. The company even offers educational content for classrooms. The curriculum comes in five levels—easy, medium, hard, expert, and legendary—so there’s something for everyone.
Something for everyone. That’s something you can definitely say about the global toy market these days, too. Looking at you, Pee&Poo.